Despite the fact that part-time students make up a significant proportion of the total number of students in higher education, their experience does not receive the same level of attention as full-time students. Furthermore, when research has been conducted into part-time higher education it has tended to consider part-time students as a discrete group.
This study evaluates the experience of part-timers by comparing it directly with that of full-time students who are co-present on the same course. The study is based on a large undergraduate programme at an English university. An analytical framework is developed, based on the concept of student engagement. Key themes are identified to provide the basis for a comparison between part-time and full-time students and respective levels of student performance and student satisfaction are also compared.
The findings suggest that part-time students have higher levels of confidence and a better sense of direction, but adopt a much more strategic approach to their studies. By some measures, this could be indicative of a lower level of engagement, but many part-time students would actually welcome a more intellectually challenging course of study. Their strategic approach may therefore simply be a response to a delivery mode which does not adequately distinguish between part-time and full-time students.